GRIFFIN MCCURRY, 8, WANTS TO have sapphire bracelets made for his mom, and maybe a ring for himself. Ten-year-old Lawrence Shield dreams of buying a fishing boat, to be named The Sapphire.
That's what happens when young prospectors strike pay dirt, as these boys did in July. Their find: two hefty sapphires. Shield, a fifth-grader from Alexandria, Va., made his 1,061-carat score on July 5 while visiting the Gold City Gem Mine in Franklin, N.C., with his father, Larry, a financial manager. A week later, McCurry, a third-grader from Florence, Ala., who stopped at Gem City during a family reunion, unearthed a 1,104.25-carat beauty.
The mine, a source of sapphires and rubies for Tiffany at the turn of the century, is now a much-visited road-side attraction drawing as many as 1,000 people a day during the summer, thanks in part to the boys' discoveries. There, visitors buy buckets of dirt (at $6 each) that comes from a local farmer's field, then pan the dirt in a flume. As the mud runs off, the amateur prospectors are usually left with smaller sapphires, rubies and colored stones. McCurry and Shield found something more. "At first," says Shield, "I didn't know it was a sapphire. I just wanted to keep it because I liked the shape."
It took a trip to the mine's jewelry store—where his find was identified by a saleswoman—for Shield to realize what he had on his hands: a rock that could well be worth $35,000, depending on the quality of the finished stone. McCurry's bigger stone could be worth as much as $45,000.
McCurry's lucky strike earned him a July 19 trip to Late Show with David Letterman, where he shared the stage with Hugh Grant, who quipped, "A sapphire in a bucket of dirt—I'm going to try and live by that metaphor." But with that TV appearance behind him, McCurry is already planning his next trip—a return visit to Gold City and its gem fields. "I think what he likes best about it," says his father, Ralph, who owns an agricultural equipment company, "is getting dirty."
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